U.S. Olympian Lea Davison cycles past homophobia toward winning

Thursday, 23 July 2020 18:18 GMT
Two-time U.S. Olympian cyclist addresses the homophobia that she and other lesbian sportswomen have faced

By Matthew Lavietes

NEW YORK, July 23 (Openly) - Two-time U.S. Olympic mountain biker Lea Davison should be pedaling towards her dream of winning a gold medal this week.

But since the coronavirus pandemic outbreak prompted Japan to postpone the Olympic Games Tokyo 2020 to next year, even Olympians have slowed down.

"The silver lining is that I get to be with my wife," said Davison, 37, who married Frazier Blair, a sporting goods company executive, in 2018 after a two-year relationship.

"In the first year we were married, we were only together six months out of the year so that's been such a great thing," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Davison, a cross-country mountain biker with two world championship medals, is one of a number of high-profile LGBT+ athletes competing openly in recent years.

The growing list includes U.S. Olympic figure skater Adam Rippon, British-American Olympic snowboarder Gus Kenworthy and British Olympic boxer Nicola Adams.

But even as public acceptance of LGBT+ people may be growing in parts of the world, sport is one area where athletes say homophobia and gender stereotypes persist.

Davison said she faced issues in the past over sharing rooms with her partner while on the road competing, while her heterosexual teammates faced no opposition to sharing rooms with their husbands.

"It was homophobia, straight up ... it was blatant," said Davison.

But the situation has started to improve, she added, and in 2018 one of her corporate sponsors, U.S. organic food and drinks group Clif Bar & Company, asked to commemorate Davison on social media for Pride month, sharing her and Blair's love story.

"That was a watershed moment," she said. "That was the first time that a sponsor had done that in my 20-year career."

Another sponsor, Louis Garneau Sports Inc., made the couple matching white cycling jerseys for their wedding weekend.

Since then, Davison has been more visible about her sexuality to fans and opened up about her private life.

"You can be yourself fully and still have a successful athletic career," she said.

Issues of sports and LGBT+ rights arose this year when Idaho in March became the first U.S. state to pass a law barring transgender high school athletes from playing in sports leagues that differ from their gender at birth.

Several other states are considering similar restrictions.

Proponents of the limitations say trans girls and women, who formerly were male, would have unfair physical advantages.

"It's tricky, but I'm in advocacy for sport being a powerful place for inclusivity. Trans female athletes should be able to compete," said Davison, who co-founded the non-profit Little Bellas, an all-girls mentoring bike program with her sister.

"We just need to lean into it and learn more about it and have these important conversations."

Davison has spent lockdown training in her hometown, Sunderland, Vermont. The upcoming Games will be her last chance to win an Olympic medal before she retires.

She finished 11th at the Olympic Games London 2012 and seventh at the Olympic Games Rio 2016.

"I'm going there to medal," she said. "I'm approaching it like I want to throw everything in the kitchen sink at this and when I look back have no regrets this Olympics."

Related stories:

Gay, black and fast: Olympic hopeful swims against tide of homophobia in Jamaica

Trans BMXer riding high as Olympic dream edges nearer

U.S. government weighs in against trans girls competing on girls' teams

(Reporting by Matthew Lavietes; Editing by Ellen Wulfhorst and Lyndsay Griffiths; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

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